The Caveman Mystique Vs. Darwinian Feminism

(I wanted to title this post: ‘Of Wheat and Women: Toward a Darwinian Feminism’. Alas, I couldn’t shake the gasping desperation of being mired in a spectacular patriarchal construct in which my sincere effort at departing from its all-encompassing grasp has been detourned and regurgitated as a gelatinous pile of simulacrum.)

I hate postmodern feminism. As a man by birth, not by choice, I call shenanigans on the idea of a vast male conspiracy in which I’m hopelessly complicit. The charge that I am conditioned from birth to oppress all of the women I love, all of the women I know, and all of the women on the planet is not one with which I’m likely to acquiesce. The notion that I’m doomed to omni-directional socialization smacks of Christianity’s putrid communicable mind-disease of “Original Sin”. But while Christianity offers potential salvation through authoritarian subjugation of our minds and the rest of our human nature after a life of guilt, postmodern feminism offers nothing more than perpetual guilt and a labryinthian trial of futility that would lead Josef K to rejoice in the relative clarity of his nightmare of Kafka’s prison. Like the magical monotheisms’ strategic defense by placing its rules outside the observable world and beyond the understanding of feeble brains, postmodern feminism holds its truths just on the other side of spectacular society’s aim or grasp. We are all inside the conspiracy, and thus, forever powerless to question its pervasive hold with our tainted minds.

But let’s get to the bad news…

Apparently, I am guilty as charged. I openly view women as different from men… and I like it. What’s worse, I have been known to love women precisely because of their femininity. And I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have been successful in being smitten by oppressing women to degree that they have appreciated my undying appreciation of said femininity. Thus, I have apparently pulled off the masterstroke of Pavlovian conditioning by convincing women that there is something special different about them worthy of distinction, and that that inherent beauty defect is a point of delineation warranting irrepressible affection and admiration objectification.

Yet despite my actual loathing for postmodern feminism, and tongue-in-cheek embrace of their accusatory program, I consider myself a Darwinian feminist. Let’s be clear… that is a political position of feminist bias influenced by Darwinian science. This is not to be confused with the scientific position of feminist Darwinism, in which scientific hypotheses are formed through the perspective gained by freeing oneself from the scientific community’s irrepressible patriarchy (Vandermassen 2008). I take this position of political bias because since the agricultural revolution, feminists have an indisputable point (generally speaking). One of the first sociopolitical developments of agricultural society was property. Besides land, women were subjected to the forefront of the legal ownership construct. It’s difficult to disentangle the development of agriculture, writing, law, oppression, and theistic religion. This difficulty is explained in their mutually supportive natures (the Matrix beta version?).

In my overlap into the paleosphere, I wonder about the influence of gendered conflagrations of caveman romanticism. I think the first of Melissa McEwan’s posts I ever read was on the question of ‘Sexism and Paleo‘. Though I disagree with a few of the points in that piece, I share a disdain for the popularized caveman stereotype. On one level, I’ve wandered around a lot of wilderness looking for caves, and I can verify that they’re not a reliable strategy for shelter from the elements or protection from predators. Thus, I vote for burying the “caveman” concept along with agricultural dominance hierarchies and the vegetarian myth. On the psychosocial level, I see the caveman image of a clubbed woman being dragged off to be used as a reproduction machine as an overt misogynistic cultural amplification of testosterone-drunk wish-thinking. As a man, I’m also not going to pretend that I can’t imagine where that impulse comes from. If you take that last sentence as a justification, you don’t understand me and should probably stop reading now.

*Much of what follows was influenced by a 4-participant, 5-article throwdown in the “Feminist Forum” feature on the intersection of feminism and Darwinism in a 2008 issue of Sex Roles…  a peer-reviewed, openly feminist leaning journal. The journal is offering free and direct access through December 31, 2010. Rebecca Hannagan wrote the target article which was reponded to by feminists Laurett Liesen, Griet Vandermassen, and Celeste Condit. Hannagan also provides a follow-up on the others’ comments.

“Ignorant” Evolutionary Psychology vs. “Ignorant” Feminism

And thus begins the typical impasse between evolutionary psychology and feminism. Feminists charge evolutionary psychologists with indiscriminate justification of evil, and evolutionary psychologists accuse feminists of misunderstanding that the “job of scientists is to find out how things work, to try to be evenhanded with the evidence, and to present their findings…” (Vandermassen 2008). The project of science is understanding. The project of evolutionary psychology is understanding psychology in the context of evolution. Beware anyone who conflates understanding with justification.

“Evolutionary psychologists’ continued ignorance of feminism and their ongoing failure to recognize the vast contributions by feminist evolutionists is at worst the continuation of male bias, and at best scholarly negligence.” (Liesen 2008)
“[P]reviously considered an “archaic debate” [, genetic determinism], turned out to be a real concern still in the minds of many feminists. As Jonathan Waage and Patricia Gowaty (1997) write in their conclusion, “[t]erminology, politics, and ignorance are, inretrospect, major barriers to the dialectic of feminism and evolutionary biology” (p. 585).” (Vandermassen 2008)
I’m going to have to side with Vandermassen on this one. Since feminism is a political movement, it seems strange to demand that evolutionary biologists put it at the top of their priorities unless their research is focused on the study of politics. Thus, this ignorance seems a sin of omission at worst. On the other hand, the feminists in question by Vandermassen use their ignorance of evolutionary biology to make claims about evolutionary biology. Despite multiple pointed refutations of the misapplication of the naturalistic fallacy to evolutionary psychology (Curry 2006; Walter 2006; Wilson, et al. 2003), the attempt to end conversations with its spurious invocation is all too common.

Darwin: More Feminist than the Feminists

Darwin’s world-view was certainly steeped in a world of Victorian ideals. As such, he tended to ethnocentrize, anthropomorphize, and Victorianify a bit too frequently. However, behind the now anachronistic veneer, his wisdom was potent.

“Darwin also attributed a more important evolutionary role to females than did most evolutionists for nearly a century after him: female choice in sexual selection. Since females bear the greater parental investment through pregnancy and lactation, they have more to gain from being highly selective about with whom to mate than do males. As a result, certain traits are selected for in males if, over time, females choose to mate with the males that bear those traits more than those who do not.” (Hannagan 2008)

That first sentence could have also read, “Darwin also attributed a more important evolutionary role to females than did most feminists for nearly a century after him.” In the concept of sexual selection, we have a solid foundation from which to sweep away all attempts to legitimize gendered patriarchy. In the concept of sexual selection, we have a power structure that, excepting violence, is nearly irrefutable for men. Across the millions of species of the animal kingdom, females exercise ultimate say in selecting with whom to reproduce. The whims of females have given us everything from the peacocks’ tail (Darwin 1972) to the bowerbirds fantastic nests and 12 foot antlers of the Irish elk (Coyne 2009) to our very creativity and intelligence (Miller 2001). Sexual selection is almost universally ignored, and when it is considered, is often misunderstood as a patriarchal mechanism for herding women. Competition between men acts as a fitness cue that aids women in selecting mates (intrasexual sexual selection). Direct displays by men to women also act as fitness cues to aid women in selecting mates (intersexual sexual selection). This isn’t to say that dominance hierarchies don’t exist in various species, but it is necessary to question the assumption that intrasexual selection is a dominance hierarchy rather than a fitness cue. Intersexual selection is always the latter.

The positive implications of sexual selection for a Darwinian feminism are many. Yet ironically, and to the detriment of their program, postmodern feminism has attacked evolutionary biology after missing the point.

Another area that’s often ignored or assigned to the evils of patriarchy is competition between females. It would be naive to assume that sexual selection is unidirectional. It is true that females have the highest degree of choice, but men also gain reproductive advantage by choosing the “best” mate. Intrasexual female competition has serious negative consequences. Stereotypically female behaviors from fashion to makeup to anorexia have been attributed to competition between females (Li, et al. 2010). Interestingly, Li, et al also found this intrasexual competition functioning similarly in homosexual men. Activities motivated by intrasexual female competition have traditionally been prime targets for postmodern feminists to assign to patriarchal power structures. However, it seems that this may be a misguided confusion of intrasexual and intersexual competition.

Men and Women Are Different

That is not a claim or implication that a male brain or a female brain is better, it is a statement of fact. While – Top 5 target of anti-evolutionary psychology deniers – Steven Pinker had already convincingly refuted “blank slate” conflagrations in his 2001 book, “The Blank Slate” (linked below), neuroscience has since been demonstrating differences via fMRI and other brain studies. Sexual dimorphism (differences) in brain development have been observed to be directly influenced by differences in XX vs. XY chromosome factors (that is at the genetic, pre-hormonal level), and by gonadal hormone differences (e.g. testosterone) (Arnold 2004).

“Genes that are found on the sex chromosomes influence sexually dimorphic brain development both by causing sex differences in gonadal secretions and by acting in brain cells themselves to differentiate XX and XY brains. Because it is easier to manipulate hormone levels than the expression of sex chromosome genes, the effects of hormones have been studied much more extensively, and are much better understood, than the direct actions in the brain of sex chromosome genes. Although the differentiating effects of gonadal secretions seem to be dominant, the theories and findings discussed above support the idea that sex differences in neural expression of X and Y genes significantly contribute to sex differences in brain functions and disease.” (Arnold 2004) [emphasis mine]

“Many neurological and psychological diseases vary in incidence or severity between the sexes. Some of these diseases are known to involve X-linked genes. The vulnerability of males to mutations of X-linked genes is an obvious source of sex differences in diseases. However, more subtle variation of the same loci probably accounts for some of the differences in psychological and neural function among populations of males and females.Recent improvements in methods to manipulate and measure gene action will lead to further insights on the role of X and Y genes in brain gender.” (Arnold 2004)

Recent theoretical developments in neuronal plasticity have given the postmodern feminists and other blank-slaters a new angle to make us all the same. Some now claim that the overarching and nefarious social construct causes brains to physically develop gender identities based on patriarchal domination by way of language faculty alteration (Kaiser, et al. 2009). That’s right folks, males are so crafty that we’ve figured out how to physically alter the neuronal structure of women’s minds to do our bidding as hapless automatons. To say that gender bias goes deep is apparently an understatement of mind-bending proportions. Curiously, all such studies seem to recognize, or ignore, sex differences in the brains of all other animal species, but resort to neck-down Darwinism when considering humans. Again, the postmodern feminist position parallels that of religion in its insistence that evil forces corrupt us on unseen levels, and by excluding the human brain as the one thing Darwinian considerations can’t mustn’t be applied to.

Years after Pinker’s work, Hannagan is still comfortable enough about sex differences to say: “Broad personality constructs, such as neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness, are heritable and there are small but consistent differences between men and women on two of the big five personality constructs—extraversion and agreeableness.” (Hannagan 2008b) [emphasis mine]

This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding physical (brain included) and psychological differences.

Against the Caveman Mystique

It’s hard for me to imagine the caveman stereotype existing without the logically flawed, but evolutionarily advantageous, human cognitive availability bias (or heuristic). In short, since we find evidence of humans in many caves, but not out in the open, we tend to assume humans were more often inhabiting caves than out in the open. The art and human remains found in caves are not found there because a majority of our ancestors were “cavemen”. They are found there because caves offer protective value for preservation, and because caves are geographically obvious places to look. Thus, the probability we’ll look in caves multiplied by the probability of evidence being preserved in caves skews cave evidence to secure an artificially elevated place in our consciousness. It’s also the case that human remains are dragged to caves by whatever ate them, or humans died in caves by becoming trapped. All of this is further multiplied by the caveman narrative in culture… it’s easy to picture, and therefore remember, and therefore spreads.

The following excerpt is from a review of the apparently poorly received book, ‘The Caveman Mystique‘ by Martha McCaughey. While it’s directed at the McCaughey’s view of the caveman stereotype, I suggest that it should also be tested against feminist theory.

Perhaps the most curious omission in the book is any discussion of the evolutionary psychological view of the human female. We are repeatedly told the dubious notion that the evolutionary view of the male is that of the stereotypical caveman who drags women off by the hair for sex. But what is the corresponding picture of the female? Evidently McCaughey doesn’t think this is informative. If men are interested in having sex with as many women as possible, what does this say about women? It is a fact of simple arithmetic that the average number of sexual partners must be identical for males and females (assuming a 50-50 sex ratio). So if men have X female partners on average, the average woman must also have X male partners. What does this logic imply about the female side of mating? (McBurney 2009)
Our gendered stereotypes are so prevalent that many miss the truism that for every man who has (heterosexual) intercourse, there is a woman. Thus, it is mathematically impossible for men to be more sexual than women on average. The more important point above is that short of transcending sexual reproduction, and attaining the implied arrogance of universal sameness, we’re not presented with an alternative framework. The focus of postmodern feminism is so often that of negating maleness that it fails by constructing a unipolar dichotomy.
I suppose that means I have to provide a Utopian glimpse into the future or find myself guilty (again) of similar sins. For that, we take a look at the past.

Hunter-Gatherers: Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism

The hunter-gatherer stereotype often does no better than the caveman tripe. Rather than the overt “masculinity” of clubbing all women of one’s choosing, it’s replaced by the overt “masculinity” of killing a wily beast and the implied “masculine” domination associated with bestowing such a gift upon the rest of the band. Unfortunately, the “Man the Hunter” hypothesis that was forwarded to explain human cognitive development has been considered inaccurate almost consistently since the 1970s (Hannagan 2008).

In discussing sexual selection above, I argued that there is a fundamental refutation of patriarchy inherent in the Darwinian framework. That itself should sound the death knell for any attempts at misogyny or gendered political dominance. However, pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer existence takes that a step further. It is likely that the prevailing form of social arrangement for the bulk of human evolution was social anarchism in the context of small hunter-gatherer bands. It is important not to assume contemporary stereotypes of socialism and anarchy here.

As found by anthropological studies of recent hunter-gatherer bands, hunter-gatherer bands exhibit high levels of communitarian and cooperative behaviors combined with an often explicit rejection of hierarchy. To observe this clearly, we also need to make a distinction between immediate-return hunter-gatherers and delayed-return hunter-gatherers. The immediate vs. delayed distinction refers initially to the timeframe in which they consume hunted and gathered food. With immediate-return bands, we see daily consumption of most food, little storage, and a tendency to an almost perpetually nomadic existence. Delayed-return hunter-gatherer bands tend to differ in that they are geographically isolated, or have borders imposed upon them by surrounding populations . In this transitional stage between ancestral hunter-gatherer existence and agriculture, we see more evidence of hierarchy, despite a lack of private property relative to modern agrarian cultures (Gray 2009).

Overall, we see a general lack of ownership or conceptions of private-property within hunter-gatherer social arrangements. The division of labor is an economic strategy that benefits both individuals and the group. Value is not necessarily assigned a priori to male or female, or to hunter or gatherer.

In some examples, anthropologists have noted a significant degree of male group control over “marriages”. This is often imposed not by potential suitors, but by the male family members of the woman. This is misleading as it’s often an ethnocentric assignment of our notions of monogamy on cultures which don’t necessarily share the same sexual norms. Even in societies with supposed marriages, females exercise a high degree of mate choice when it comes to actual reproduction:

Having high status as a good hunter has been shown to raise a man’s reproductive success everywhere the relationship has been investigated, one of the pathways being that it gains him sexual access to more and higher quality women, whether officially or in extra-marital affairs.” (Vandermassen 2008) [emphasis mine]

At first glance, this would seem to refute my comment a couple paragraphs back about non-assignment of value to the hunter role. However, it merely reinforces my qualification that such value is not assigned a priori. Hunters, as a category, do not automatically benefit. Hunters who excel are assigned a higher fitness value and therefore tend to be selected by females to father offspring. This does however, refute the claim that arranged marriages act as true control over women’s reproduction.


In another word, freedom. Why is every sovereign individual (by that I mean every individual) in the 21st century born not as a human, but as a proprietary asset on the balance sheet of a nation-state? Why do all agricultural societies suffer from drastically diminished levels of freedom? Why do geographically and otherwise isolated delayed-return hunter-gatherer bands tend toward political hierarchy while their immediate-return analogues do not? The atomization of individuals within the supra-organism of culture has been elevated over the autonomy our ancestors were born with, but why?

For 99%+ of human evolution, every able-bodied human has had the option of leaving oppressive regimes. Every individual had the choice to opt out of social games stacked against them. The fact of human migration across the totality of earth is proof that this strategy was employed many times. However, it would have happened more rapidly if remaining in a group was not generally more advantageous for each individual. The ability to round up a group of like-minded individuals to leave was somewhat balanced by the group’s recognition of a general strength in numbers. Call it the invisible hand of exploration, or call it migration, but it acted as a perpetual check on all forms of unwelcome domination. Their complete lack of the geographical and legal boundaries we’re faced with today allowed an entirely different paradigm for human social interaction. This concept is not new. The right to cross all borders to leave oppression is legitimized in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it is ignored by every country on earth for reasons beyond the scope of this piece. Further, the concept loses its actual value when there is no more frontier, but only trading one domination hierarchy for the flag of another.

The temptation to form in-groups and out-groups along lines of gender, ethnicity, education, running skills, or other coin flips is a curse of a stone age brain in an information age world. Yielding to such temptations will invariably lead to error. The unbearable lightness of paranoia that accompanies postmodernist cynicism is a direct path to your own distracted energy. You’re all formally invited to ditch the postmodern feminist doomsday machine for a refreshing trip to the history of the Galapagos…

Hey! I finished in under 4,000 words! Is this the part where I get called a misogynist then burned at the altar of Margaret Mead, or… perhaps you have other thoughts? (If you have questions or comments that you think are too far off topic, you can also post ’em in the forum.)

Arnold, Arthur P. “Sex chromosomes and brain gender..” Nature reviews. Neuroscience 5, no. 9 (September 2004): 701-8.
Curry, Oliver. “Who’ s Afraid of the Naturalistic Fallacy?”. Evolutionary Psychology (2006): 234-247.
Gray, Peter. “Play as a Foundation for Hunter- Gatherer Social Existence s.” The American Journal of Play 1, no. 4 (2009): 476-522.
Hannagan, Rebecca J. “Gendered political behavior: A Darwinian feminist approach.” Sex Roles 59, no. 7/8 (2008).
Hannagan, Rebecca J. “Genes, Brains and Gendered Behavior: Rethinking Power and Politics in Response to Condit, Liesen, and Vandermassen.” Sex Roles 59, no. 7-8 (September 2008): 504-511.
Kaiser, Anelis, Sven Haller, Sigrid Schmitz, and Cordula Nitsch. “On sex/gender related similarities and differences in fMRI language research..” Brain research reviews 61, no. 2 (October 2009): 49-59.
Li, N. P., Smith, A. R., Griskevicius, V., Cason, M. J., & Bryan, A. (2010). Intrasexual competition and eating restriction in heterosexual and homosexual individuals. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31(5), 365-372.
Liesen, Laurette T. “The Evolution of Gendered Political Behavior: Contributions from Feminist Evolutionists.” Sex Roles 59, no. 7-8 (July 2008): 476-481.
McBurney, Donald H. “REVIEW – The Caveman Mystique: Pop Darwinism and the Debates over Sex, Violence, and Science.” Sex Roles 62, no. 1-2 (June 2009): 138-140.
Trivers, R.L. . Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871-1971 (1972) : 136-179. Chicago, IL: Aldine. ISBN 0-435-62157-2
Vandermassen, Griet. “Can Darwinian Feminism Save Female Autonomy and Leadership in Egalitarian Society?.” Sex Roles 59, no. 7-8 (August 2008): 482-491.
Waage, J., & Gowaty, P. (1997). Myths of genetic determinism. In P. Gowaty (Ed.), Feminism and evolutionary biology: Boundaries, intersections, and frontiers (pp. 585–613). New York: Chapman & Hall.
Walter, Alex. “The Anti-naturalistic Fallacy : Evolutionary Moral Psychology and the Insistence of Brute Facts.” Evolutionary Psychology, no. 1999 (2006): 33-48.
Wilson, David Sloan, Eric Dietrich, and Anne B Clark. “On the inappropriate use of the naturalistic fallacy in evolutionary psychology.” Evolutionary Psychology (2003): 669-682.

  1. pieter d 5 years ago

    There is a lot of wisdom in these words. Men and women are equivalent, not equal. Hey, even my three year old knows this. You eloquently elaborate on how men and women are different. Thanks.

    People living an ancestral inspired life should read more anthropological literature (and there is quite a lot of very readable literature), besides reading on diet, exercise and vitamin D. There is so much to learn, and to understand, even if that- as you put it- does not imply justification, nor does it mean that we should re-enact.

  2. Emily Deans 5 years ago

    Insomnia! Just as well as I would never have time to write a proper comment during the day. And I must preface my remarks with the acknowledgement that my last exposure to academic women's studies was in 1993, so I may expose my ignorance within a few sentences.

    First off – great post, epic, really. I have a little disagreement with one bit but I think you readily and accurately exposed some of the weaknesses of (my understanding of) feminist theory. My college class was called "feminism in American 20th century literature" and while in most respects was a terrific class, I found that with book after book, the successful feminist heroine gave up on men and became a lesbian. Those women who stayed with men became endlessly victimized and under appreciated. I'm not suggesting that is the explicit goal of postmodern feminism, but it certainly speaks to what makes postmodern feminism potent and yet flawed – the rage. Because one logical extension of the all-lesbian model is parthenogenesis and breeding men out of existence. That's angry. Of course that is my own perhaps hopelessly patriarchal psychodynamic take on post modern feminism. Also, sleep deprivation.

    Feminsim also struggles with the misunderstanding of psychology in general with the application of feminine power, but that is a well-known criticism of feminism and one you covered at length above. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. My feminine wiles are awesome, thank you very much, especially if I apply them thoughtfully.

    This does not mean that the deck is not stacked against women to some extent, but I think all told that women and men both have weaknesses psychologically speaking that are somewhat complimentary.

    Oof – iPad so I lost the bottom of the comment so ignore the dangling last half sentence, please. My disagreement is in the math that since men sleep around, women must too. I had thought that most hunter gatherer societies were polygamous with one man and several wives – thus a man would have many partners and the women only one. Perhaps that is why homosexuality seems to be more highly selected for in men than in women. Women's concealed pregnancy might speak to women sleeping around more often than you might think, though. Also, I had thought that humans were a bit backwards compared to other species with respect to sexual selection. That women are the peacocks. But I'm not on the cutting edge of anthropology either so I may have old-fashioned ideas.

    Ultimately mothers love their sons and daughters, and fathers their daughters and sons (which is why I'm surprised at T Ferriss's Brazilian model gambit – as a businessman he said he could not please some without pissing off others – but does he truly want to piss off women, wives, girlfriends, and fathers of daughters? He is left with single men and while that may be his target demographic, how many books do they buy as a whole?)

    Not sure how many people I've offended at this point (single men and academic feminists – not easy to do in one blog comment!)- suffice it to say that feminism's strength in empowering women under a patriarchy has done great service for me personally in my life and career. And perhaps in the last 20 years academic feminism has moved to a more sustainable approach that loves sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers too. Though it wasn't too long ago that a prominent feminist philosopher asked successful women to have only one child. A woman's power as wife and mother must evolve too, and not be ignored or downplayed.

    My disagreement with you is minor in that

    • Geoff 5 years ago

      I agree that just because men sleep around doesn't mean that women do, and there are a lot of modern day data points to support this, including disease transmission rates, the distribution of sexual partners, and a qualitative understanding of female attraction mechanisms. In general, I think that a small percentage of men in a given clan were consistently having sex with the vast majority of women. The one time when women sleep around, however, is when they're ovulating, at which time they are far more interested in physical and social alpha male characteristics. This suggests that women would preferentially cheat on their man while ovulating and make him raise the cuckold child (of course no one would have any way of knowing this without genetic paternity tests). Even today in the U.S., 1 in 30 people are not genetically related to their "dad."

      The one point I take issue with is that about homosexuality. I think that homosexuality in men is related to a promiscuity gene on the X chromosome, passed down to the child from his mother. Homosexuality in women is a lie. It is a fear of intimacy with men as a result of previous experiences, in for example rape or abuse. Women can be attracted to each other, and that is as much a social phenomenon as any other attraction mechanism, but falling in love is another beast altogether, and it requires a man.

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        Andrew 5 years ago

        Hm… Your views on female homosexuality echo this Freudian nonsense from 1966.

        • Geoff 5 years ago

          I can't say I've read too much Freud. My hypothesis on homosexuality and lesbianism is based on a few different factors:
          1. Personal experience with an ex who thought she was a lesbian for a few years in college.
          2. My friend Steve who is a dating coach and the best seducer I've ever seen, and my bearing witness to him seducing lesbians multiple times.
          3. Another acquaintance who goes by Savage who I've had discussions about this with, and who has experience with picking up lesbian couples for a threesome.
          4. A relatively obscure study that I read maybe two years ago about a "slut" gene on the X chromosome that a mother can pass to her son and results in a high incidence of homosexuality (may be epigenetic factors as well).

        • Mojomartini 4 years ago

          Andrew, I didn’t major in math, but I don’t understand how you conclude that for every man having intercourse there is one woman assuming there is a 50-50 sex ratio. Technically, 200 men could all be doing it with the same prostitute while 199 other women remain virginal or committed sexually to one man each.  And, even evolutionary psychologists (with whom I’ve been known to disagree) say that gay men’s sexual behavior (some tending to have multiple, even hundreds, of partners) shows “male nature” is different when not forced to compromise with women’s.  I am not interested in defending evolutionary psychologists’ view on male sexuality here. But I am interested in basic math equations.

          • Andrew 4 years ago

            I’m speaking of a simple mean average.

            1 man = 1 woman 
            10 men = 10 women
            50 men = 50 women 
            200 men = 200 women
            200 men = 199 + 1 women 

            Your example with 10 instead of 200:
            men: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
            women: 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0,  10

            In your example, the mode and median values are 1 for men and 0 for women, but the mean average remains 1 for men and women.

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        Andrew 5 years ago

        A massive new book analyzing homosexuality in humans and other animals recently came out. [Discussion]

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Assuming a 50/50 balance between men and women in a population, the identical average of male/female sexual partners is a simple mathematical fact. Let's take a "polygynous" example in a population of 3 men and 3 women… If 1 man is "married" to 3 women, each woman would have sex with 1 man on average, and since two men have sex with 0 women, each man also has sex with 1 woman on average. For each of the other men who engages in sex with 1 woman, the average for both all males and all female increases by 1/3.

      Since the birth rate can statistically be assumed to be 50/50, the average number of sexual partners will always be exactly the same with respect to total births. It is true that the average will vary with population imbalances.

      The distribution of number of sexual partners can vary, but the average will always be the same.

      The higher rate of male homosexuality is due in part (if not mostly) to 9 months of development under constant bombardment by the prenatal hormones of a female (the mother). Though there is also reason to believe genes are at play.

      • Victoria 5 years ago

        Of course men and women must have the same average # of sexual partners (when considering a purely heterosexual and equally distributed population), but as soon as you mentioned it, 4th grade math popped to my mind and I started wondering about the median and mode- what's the distribution of sexual partners by gender? It's probably silly pop-culture, religion, and a mess of other societal pressures that pushes the image of a population of chaste (or monogamous) women with a few harlots bringing up the sexual average to be on par with the men, but I wonder what the reality is. I'd guess that throughout history, polygynous cultures have been much more plentiful than polyandrous cultures.

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          Andrew 5 years ago

          As I mentioned in the comment to Brandy below, there is a psychological component to this. It's based on Robert Trivers' 1972 parental investment theory. Basically, since women's investment in a pregnancy is 9 months at the absolute minimum, and men's is… well… seconds, we see some behavioral differences in how women and men approach sexual encounters. To be crass, it's a bit of a risk-reward calculation.

          And to use another economic term, there's also an opportunity cost. In theory, a man could impregnate hundreds of women during the 9 months the initial woman spends pregnant. He's monopolized her reproductive capacity, but she hasn't monopolized his. Further, each subsequent child he fathers with another women effectively reduces the resources available to provide for the child of the first woman. This is the basis of a cascade of sociocultural restrictions and "norms".

          In Victorian society, and today, women are encouraged to be "chaste", or whatever dubious term we'd like to use. One one level, this encouragement may reduce a woman's likelihood of getting pregnant by someone who won't support her, but it also gets culturally amplified and distorted to the point where women aren't free (in terms of social cost) to engage in sex.

          It all starts off with some basic human instincts at the individual level, then culture turns it into something ugly. I don't think it's only the male part of culture that's complicit in this, but I do think it's a cultural problem rather than a "character" flaw with any individual's sexuality. How can it be when "character" is also culturally defined?

  3. Syler W. 5 years ago

    Thanks for the article, it was an interesting and engaging read.

    Beware anyone who conflates understanding with justification.

    This is a valuable point, and people tend do this in everyday life quite often.

    “Although the differentiating effects of gonadal secretions seem to be dominant, the theories and findings discussed above support the idea that sex differences in neural expression of X and Y genes significantly contribute to sex differences in brain functions and disease.” (Arnold 2004)

    An interesting (counter?)example would be women with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). While chromosomally XY – male, they develop a female phenotype and gender identity, due to the tissues in their bodies being insensitive to circulating androgens.

    “Broad personality constructs, such as neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness, are heritable and there are small but consistent differences between men and women on two of the big five personality constructs—extraversion and agreeableness.” (Hannagan 2008b)

    What is important to keep in mind during such discussions is that we are talking about averages, and intrasexual variability often isn’t mentioned at all. The ranges overlap significantly.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      “What is important to keep in mind during such discussions is that we are talking about averages, and intrasexual variability often isn’t mentioned at all. The ranges overlap significantly.”

      Minimizing differences is only important if we assume that different = bad. I reject that assumption. Rather, I believe the opposite; that different = good. With that frame, maximizing differences = maximizing good. But I do agree with your implied point that differences are often used for negative purposes.

      • Syler W. 5 years ago

        "Minimizing differences is only important if we assume that different = bad. I reject that assumption."

        I agree with you so far. But I reject the same assumption for a different reason – I generally avoid applying value judgments to broad natural and social phenomena. In other words, I don't think differences are bad, but I don't think they're good either. However, I don't deny the fact that they are.

        "maximizing differences = maximizing good."

        This could leave some room for interpretation… if I follow correctly, you believe that there are significant innate psycho-social differences between the sexes, as a result of natural selection. The fact that they exist today bears witness to the fact that they are good for the survival of the species. In the recent past, the feminist movement brought along the idea that equality = good, but that got confused with differences = bad, so people are now denying differences and trying to decrease them as much as possible. But this is a bad thing, since you already established that differences are good and beneficial for humankind.

        With you so far?

        • Profile photo of Andrew
          Andrew 5 years ago

          Perhaps I should have said "difference" is good rather than "differences" are good. All variations aren't good whether we're talking about survival/reproduction or making normative value claims.

          As far as making normative claims, I think there's some wisdom in Sam Harris's approach…

          [youtube Hj9oB4zpHww youtube]

          I think we can make some legitimate claims to levels of human flourishing relating to sex/gender starting from a Darwinian perspective and testing them with recent methods. From the perspective offered in the video, I don't think the program of postmodern feminism can make any claims to optimality. Conversely, I think we can measure the level of flourishing that's derived from sex difference(s) and make some claims about optimality, or things to improve to move toward optimality.

          My original point was little more than [paraphrase] "sex differences exist and rejecting that fact won't lead us in the right direction". When dealing with postermodernism's insistence on a lack of useful referents, and its solution of unquestionable relativism, that's unfortunately a necessary first step.

  4. Geoff 5 years ago

    I'm glad you hit this topic. I get a lot of crap from people for my views on femininity and feminism, but what's funny is I get it mostly from masculine women and feminine men. I've always thought there are a lot of synergies between primal nutrition and pickup, both because of their evolutionary perspective and because of their reliance on empirical results over dogma. This seems to be one area where they overlap quite well. I recommend my boy Mark's post on feminism here:…. I've also got my own little rant on feminism here on Quora:…. It's really sad that we live in a world where women don't know how to act like women and men don't know how to act like men.

    If you haven't yet, I recommend you read the book "The Way of the Superior Man" by David Deida. It's pretty awesome, and he does a great job of articulating things that we as men sort of intrinsically know but can't really put into words. I have it in pdf if you're interested.

    • Syler W. 5 years ago

      You say "women don't know how to act like women and men don't know how to act like men." I don't really follow your logic – why should people have to "act" like something they are? Your statement seems somewhat nonsensical… unless you would add the qualifier, "men don't know how to act like men are supposed to act", but then, if the majority of men and women don't fit your narrow definition, I would tentatively start by reconsidering the definition and not the behavior you are judging against it.

      • Geoff 5 years ago

        The "are supposed to act" is implied. Maybe a better way of putting it may have been "men don't know how to act masculine and women don't know how to act feminine." The fact that the majority of men and women don't fit my definition says nothing to the truth of the statement. The definitions of masculinity and femininity are genetically and biologically predetermined, and the fact that our society is shaping people to not act that way doesn't change that. If anything, the fact that people are acting inappropriately and it is resulting in their unhappiness is further evidence of the inappropriateness of their actions. And yes, it is resulting in their unhappiness.

  5. NomadicNeill 5 years ago

    Warren Farrell argues that it is actually women that hold all the power in human societies. They get protected, almost 100% of them get to reproduce, until recently they could avoid dangerous jobs and warfare. I haven't read his book The Myth of Male Power but I've listened to some interviews with him and he makes a compelling argument.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      To be fair to you, and Warren Farrell I suppose, you don't claim to have made the full case here. But based on this snippet, consider the following:

      Colin Farrell argues that it is actually dogs that hold all the power in human societies. They get protected, almost 100% of them get to reproduce, until recently they could avoid dangerous jobs and warfare.

      By changing one word, we can equate women to dogs with this line of reasoning, but can we seriously argue that dogs have [political] power? Put another way, this kind of inductive reasoning is problematic without evidence of a power mechanism employed at the behest of women.

      • NomadicNeill 5 years ago

        I understand your point, also I shouldn't have said 'all the power'.

        Different kinds after all.

        The male CEO of a large company and the escort that he pays to have sex with each have different kinds of power.

      • Geoff 5 years ago

        Haha when I read his comment I was going to say that by that definition you could say the same thing about dogs, but it looks like you beat me to the punch.

        To illustrate the absurdity of this definition of power though, let me throw in one other species that holds the power by that definition: corn. Corn has evolved to have us serve it and propagate its genes. It is, in fact, so helpless that corn would go extinct in a couple year's time if we stop planting it, because it's totally incapable of reproducing on its own.

  6. Brandy Philip 5 years ago

    I spent the majority of one whole Master's-level class on Contemporary Feminism arguing with women about the men-making-women-powerless theme. The end result of the class was an art exhibition where there was white clothing all over the floor for people to "mark" by walking on it and a bunch of lamps (also on the floor) with subservient banal quotes from the readings. I wanted to scream. You don't have to believe it, but the professor held a party for us to all come and meet Linda Nochlin. I punted another version of what should be on the lights… one having less of a victim bent to it. She approved. We drank wine on the couch and watched the teacher (who had been one of her students, but obviously paid no attention outside of class to the WORLD in general) buzz about the plans for the exhibition.

    I ended up making the text panels and the brochure. The idea was Nochlin-approved and viewed with skepticism by my teacher. The text panels were clear with printing on them, but whole words were missing from the phrases and titles. You could only read the text by holding the brochure under the text panel. The brochure and the text panels looked like nonsense until you put them together. I wore a brownie uniform and patent leather Mary-Jane heels to the opening and hated on the "Feminists" …aggressively. Both post-modern feminists and chauvinists agree: I am nothing other than a walking vagina and have no other capabilities or interesting things about me.

    I loved your emphasis on "averages" stating that the average heterosexual man MUST have the same "body count" as the average female because that's how math works. And, yes, I can attest to your mind-control abilities.

    You did leave out the percentage of hunter-gatherer societies that trace their ancestry through the mother's side. Of course, tracing families through the mother is the only real way to know where you came from (before Maury and his free paternity tests). You also left out the rather odd and kinky bit about how these groups were more like extended family groups, making the "field" rather more even by displaying a wide range… of your cousins and siblings… to pick from. Inbreeding gave us all of the more obvious physical differences between tribes in different regions. Both of these practices became outdated and somewhat shocking, and no one really recommends the latter anymore.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Oh sure! A 3,500+ word blog post and I get busted for not including enough anthropology! :) As soon as I get that publishing advance, I'll pursue all of my thoughts to their conclusions.

      But I'm with you, the collision between pervasive paternity uncertainty and Trivers' 1972 work on parental investment theory is indeed the basis for interesting hypotheses in evolutionary psychology.

      The whole power structure thing is real, but you already know how my Situationist indoctrination makes me wary of assigning it to patriarchy per se. Postmodern feminism has some valid frustrations, but like Marxism, takes some wrong turns on the way to missing the point entirely.

  7. Calvin 5 years ago

    Excellent post!

    "The positive implications of sexual selection for a Darwinian feminism are many." I would love to have this explained in a little more detail.

    I get that, through sexual selection, women ultimately hold more power in choosing mates because of their increased investment in children, but what are some of the other positive implications?

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Holy moly… I've been dreading responding to this comment for two days. Basically… I'm going to have to punt on a full response, but I've started a thread in the forum to open it up for discussion.

      I'm hoping others will comment to start it off, but I'll add some thoughts (probably tomorrow). So… if you're just waiting for my input, be sure and subscribe to the thread (which can be done via RSS, or the link below the thread while viewing it).

  8. @melissamcewen 5 years ago

    “Their complete lack of the geographical and legal boundaries we’re faced with today allowed an entirely different paradigm for human social interaction.”

    Yes, this. You really should read ‘The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia‘, as this is sort of its thesis.

    One thing we should explore is the role of modern chemicals on sex differences. Did you see that paper on how birth control pills alter women’s brain structure? And for men there are all these pollutants that mimic estrogen everywhere.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      You must have mentioned that book elsewhere because I already got a copy, but… I haven't so much as cracked open the title page. I'll move it up in the queue.

      I haven't yet delved into any of the sort of epigenetic modern chemical influence stuff, but I definitely agree that it's an interesting avenue to pursue. It sounds like something Emily might be able to weigh in on as well.

      Did you delve into Mendeley yet? It's my default research organization tool so I'm all set for sharing research in there. I want to make that paleo diet group public, and do a blog post inviting the paleosphere to join. But maybe adding another semi-private group for sharing this kind of info would be good too.

  9. "Why is every sovereign individual (by that I mean every individual) in the 21st century born not as a human, but as a proprietary asset on the balance sheet of a nation-state? … The atomization of individuals within the supra-organism of culture has been elevated over the autonomy our ancestors were born with, but why?"

    I expect you'll find this piece of anarchist propaganda (fair warning) a bit enlightening on that subject:

    [youtube P772Eb63qIY youtube]

    Molyneux gets a bit pedantic near the end, but it's a useful metaphor he creates.

  10. tembi 4 years ago

    So your definition of "Postmodernist Feminism" seems to include both the notion that all men oppress women because patriarchy is embedded in our society (this is the definition that you start with) AND the notion that men and women are not different or the same. This last definition, which you argue against a great deal, is not really compatible with the first, and I would also argue that it is an incomplete or bastardized version of gender theory that came out of both queer and feminist academic discourses. This gender theory is associated more heavily with poststructuralism than postmodernism, at least in my experience. What Butler posits in her influential publication Gender Trouble is not that men and women are the same or not that different but that the gender binary is arbitrary and culturally produced rather than scientifically or ontologically "real" If you look at the hormonal, chromosomal and anatomical differences between humans you don't get two categories.

    To say that you get off on femininity is not a problem for me. To say that you get off on femininity because it is inherent and proper to women is. For example, as a jumble of aesthetic markers, gesture, styles – this thing you call femininity might belong to a number of people who don't identify as women.

    Procreative sex seems like it will happen regardless of what we decide about gender/sex and sexuality, so that it needn't be "dangerous" or "anti-evolutionary" to claim that gender/sex is both more and less than what we've made of it in the past.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      This wasn’t at all meant to be a full critique of the various modes of feminism, or even of one particular strain. As such, calling my shorthand a ‘bastardization’ of [all] gender theory is a bit strong. The point was to bring attention to a line of inquiry (Darwinian feminism) that is proving to be more accurate, less conspiratorial, and thus likely more productive (assuming accuracy is important).

      I must strongly object to the (albeit loose) implication that I harbor notions of gender as a binary concept. I’m always suspicious of dichotomies.

      I don’t know that it’s important for me to quibble on the nuances of postmodernism vs. poststructuralism, but the idea of an ‘arbitrary’ gender that seeks to distance itself from any concrete referent and ultimately seek cover in culture (and the relativistic position by extension) is sufficiently pomo for my use of the term. The Darwinian framework does provide a positive referent that, to my mind (as well as the series in Sex Roles), should be integrated into the discussion rather than wished away.

      If I wanted to argue within the confines of a (post)structuralist framework, my thinking would be something similar to: “The emancipation of women cannot be dissociated from that of children or that of men. And the abolition of the family goes hand in hand with the abolition of the spectacle-commodity system.” –Raoul Vaneigem. I’m not going to confine myself to that framework, so I’ll just say that my synthesis of Darwin and Vaneigem (etc.) remains ongoing.

      My concern isn’t about procreative sex. More like: I think it is something akin to “dangerous” to teach children to shun their instincts with respect to gender preferences that are likely to be influenced (to varying degrees) by the integrative framework of genes -> hormones -> culture. Culturally lobotomizing children with respect to gender should be as objectionable as culturally foisting gender upon children. Actually, I think it’s more like child-abuse, but I use that term in the same way I would regarding indoctrinating children with any particular religion. The data strongly indicate gender differences; proliferating the narrative of sameness is a lie.

      Yes, my conception of femininity is my own, as is my conception of masculinity. However, your assertion that it may diverge from “a number of people who don’t identify as women” isn’t compelling – some overlap in the bell curve of any “marker” is predicted. Genotypic/phenotypic homosexuality is a proof that gender isn’t absolute. Your point also doesn’t bother me because I accept that socially influenced gender roles exist – in the same way many socially influenced roles exist. It remains my position that some of these socialization routines are cultural amplifications of an underlying nature, and some are reifications of commodity consumerism.

      More empirical data speaking strongly to natural gender identity: ‘Discordant Sexual Identity in Some Genetic Males with Cloacal Exstrophy Assigned to Female Sex at Birth’ [PDF]. Fascinating study.

  11. Dana 4 years ago

    If women are so responsible for how men turned out, how could the agricultural revolution have been responsible for the oppression of women? There shouldn't have been ANY oppression of women and the idea should have never entered men's minds. Because we should have bred it out of you by then.

    Could it be that the decision to be nurturing or, to put it bluntly, an asshole, isn't really encoded in the genes but is a conscious choice that a man makes? How the hell do you select for that? It's not in the DNA code.

    Seems to me you're just blaming the victim here. To get it out of the way now: You're an adult. No one but you can decide how you will act. If that's not true, it's time you were institutionalized for your own good, never mind everyone else's. Men do get laid when they act like decent human beings so it is not like the future of the species is doomed if women are not kept from voting for 2000 years.

    (exaggeration, maybe… but you get the idea.)

    Now to be cautious here, I am not saying it's a bad thing for men to be exuberant or active or strong. It IS a bad thing when those traits are bent to oppressive ends. I think I can tell the difference, though, between good exuberance/activeness/strength and, well, assholery.

    Kind of like good art. You just know. And if you wanted to, you could psychoanalyze the situation and come up with some clearly defined traits that differentiate between the two, but you don't really have to.

    Also? I am rather weary (not wary, weary) of men coming up with all sorts of bullshit excuses that they cannot support feminism unless it is a feminism they define and for which they get to call the shots.

    I do believe there is such a thing as a male feminist, but if you're not the one in the cage, you have no say in how the bird gets out (pun definitely intended) other than in opening the damn door.

    And while you may not agree with gender discrimination or women's oppression, you benefit from it. So it might behoove you to be honest enough to admit the oppression exists and pronounce it bullshit. People hurt one another all the time and yes, women can hurt men, but it isn't often that women have the full power of the state, the culture, and the dominant religion behind us when we do. If she screws you over, easily remedied: dump the bitch, pay alimony or child support as applicable, and leave her to wallow in poverty for a while til the government steps in and offers her a program, while you get on with your life unburdened by such fleeting matters as changing diapers, arranging your job around daycare hours or being turned down for dates because your love interest doesn't want a partner with "baggage."

    And I just scratched the surface there. Ain't that cute?

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      "If women are so responsible for how men turned out, how could the agricultural revolution have been responsible for the oppression of women?"

      The evolutionary principle that answers your question is known as "exaptation".

      I wish you'd worded your response in such a way that didn't require us to buy into your assumptions and unsupported assertions in order to have a thorough discussion.

      "And I just scratched the surface there."

      Yes, I agree that your analysis is rather superficial.

  12. Author
    Andrew 4 years ago

    The framework through which you're viewing this ignores the interplay of assortative mating and Amotz Zahavi's handicap principle. A female's desire to signal her mate value is innate, just as it is for males. These principles hold true across the animal kingdom.

    "The handicap principle suggests that reliable signals must be costly to the signaler, costing the signaler something that could not be afforded by an individual with less of a particular trait." – Wikipedia

  13. soahc 4 years ago

    When you mentioned the 'destroying their feet to look pretty' you touched upon one of the most obvious examples of patriarchal domination and control over gender definitions out there IMO.

    I believe high heels are a form of foot binding forced upon women by men as a way to feminize women to an extreme. A ploy to keep women from running away, being active, embracing their masculine qualities in any way.

    A finer line runs between sexual dimorphism and patriarchal agenda than the human hand can draw. I do not feel comfortable defining for biological women what their psychology should be, what they should wear, etc. Sure, I like a woman in a nice summer dress. But please be barefoot and leave the heels at home, thanks. We're going for a walk on the beach for our first date. Maybe then we can go surfing together, unless you parents taught you that the ocean is scary and full of sharks.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      As I alluded to in the comment to Dana, we can't simply assume signals employed by women are imposed by patriarchy. Do we blame matriarchal domination when men do stupid and dangerous stuff to show off for women? Signaling works in both directions without even a hint of domination.

      Women's fashion trends tend to be motivated by intrasexual (female-female) competition, not male-driven imperative.

      I'm not saying that there's no such thing as behavior influenced by "domination", only that we can't assume that behaviors – that seem silly to "us" – are motivated by power, dominance, violence, et cetera.

  14. Bennett 4 years ago

    (Yay for gravedigging, but I loved this post, especially after doing some time in academia)

    Man, it sure would be nice to be able to dominate women and control their poor widdle minds. *sigh* If only.

    Well, nah, actually the fun ones are fun precisely because that's a no-go.

    As it is, I've spent vast hunks of my life trying to impress them, and then another vast hunk trying to curb that tendency because it's so unbecoming (and ultimately self-defeating). I don't think this is uncommon for males, and does indeed tell you a lot about where the power lies. Guys compete for women, women compete *with* women. Women don't compete with men (unless there's some kind of interesting bisexual love triangle going on) for about the same reason that timber wolves don't compete with schnauzers (not that I'm saying women are ruthless, cunning pack predators or that men are domesticated pets, but… you get the idea).

    Speaking of, a lot of the 'pickup artists' and other successful players are having such easy success because of the targets they choose. Multiple multiples of men have tried the 'Mystery method' and similar techniques on bright, attractive female friends of mine, and been brutally dealt with. It only works when you're a beta male using it on gamma females. In other words, you're a high weight class of scum, relatively speaking, who's still managing to find insecure women even further down on the mating food chain.

  15. @RebeccaHannagan 4 years ago

    Interesting post and subsequent discussion. Thanks @evolvify

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Discussions on posts like this tend to generate a lot of cringeworthy moments. :)

      I’m still wading through the recent additions to the conversation in the May 2011 Sex Roles – with an eye to updating some of my thoughts on this.

      Your work is appreciated.

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